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Interview with Zhang Xiaogang

. Anjali Rao
AR: Hi I'm Anjali Rao. This week I'm in the Beijing studio of Zhang Xiaogang, a man who's fought his share of battles to become China's leading contemporary artist, and his work now sells for million of dollars around the world. This is Talk Asia.

AR: Putting the finishing touches to his latest work, Zhang Xiaogang is one of China's most famous living artists, with his work exhibited and sold around the world. He broke records last November when his painting "Tiananmen Square" was auctioned for more than 2 million U.S. dollars, making it, at the time, China's most expensive contemporary art. His Bloodline series is also highly prized by collectors. The paintings depict stylized figures drawn from formal family portraits, with distinctive red blood lines illustrating the links between people. A collection of this series dons the metro in Shenzhen. His style, quite simply, is unique.

Vinci Chang: In the past thousand years of Chinese paintings until today, Zhang Xiaogang is one of the most outstanding artists. He actually reveals his feelings and also social, political contexts, and also ideological concerns in China today.

AR: Growing up in southern China during the chaos of Mao's Cultural Revolution, he channels much of his early vision of the world into his work. We catch up with him in a distinctly bohemian area of Beijing, where a number of other artists own studios.

AR: Xiaogang, it's a pleasure to welcome you to this edition of Talk Asia. Now there's so much global demand now for Asian contemporary art, particularly Chinese art. How do you see your role on the world art stage?

ZX: I don't know what contributions I've made. In the world art market today, my situation of that is being at the right place at the right time. After the world has advanced to where it is now, it must choose certain artists. No one person can decide this. I'm just lucky this time period selected me and then allowed me to come into this market and make good progress. For me, it's luck.

AR: As one of China's leading contemporary artists, how much pressure do you yourself feel under to keep producing work that appeals to those who might buy it?

ZX: Because I have been in the art field for some 20 years, it's already become a part of my life. So it was very natural for me to slowly get to where I am today. But all of a sudden the market sped up. For me, the real pressure doesn't even come from the art market. As an artist, the real pressure forever comes from within, from my own expectations of art, as well as an artist's view and understanding of life.

AR: Your works were initially barred from being displayed in galleries here in China. It was seen as not traditional enough and too western, not conventional enough. How did you deal with that?

ZX: My artwork has survived through China's opening-up process over the past 10 years. At first, people didn't really hold contemporary views. Then an acceptance process began. As people began to open up more and faster, people began to accept more modern things. Now people are beginning to learn more and to promote art. I think the whole process is a result of China's increased openness.

AR: Did you at the time see yourself as a rebel? Was it something that you felt insulted by, that they wouldn't show your work?